There were several of the announced Democratic candidates for president in 2020 in Austin in recent days, for a series of interviews at a Texas Tribune forum as part of the annual South by Southwest festival.
But exciting as much sideline buzz were likely candidates who have yet to confirm their plans, and did not participate in the Tribune interviews: the Two B’s – Biden and Beto.
That’s former Vice President Joe Biden, who polls show at first or second among Democrats for the nomination; and Beto O’Rourke, a three-term former congressman from El Paso, who gave up his House seat to run a near-miss effort in 2018 to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
Biden, 76, had wanted to run in 2016, but the death of his son Beau from brain cancer in May of 2015 had saddened his family enough that he did not.
For 2020, Biden’s troops indicate they have his campaign poised to go when he gives the word.
So Biden was not in Austin during South By Southwest.
Beto, however, was in Austin Saturday, for the premiere of “Running With Beto,” a documentary about his marathon 17-month, 254-county campaign.
After the movie, the personable candidate took questions from reporters, but remained mum about his plans.
“I want to make sure I do it the right way and tell everybody at the same time, so I’ll be doing that,” said the 46-year-old. “I’ve got to be on the timeline that works for my family and for the country, so that’s the timeline we’re on.”
But one thing that seemed to make his announcement for president not a question of whether, but when, was an email, sent while the film was being shown, to his list of supporters.
“If you’re on the edge of your seat about Beto’s decision around a potential 2020 run for president, you’re not alone,” wrote Beto’s deputy campaign manager Cynthia Cano, who often traveled with Beto on his 2017-18 road trip around Texas.
“But since you’re someone who supported Beto’s run for Senate, I wanted to invite you to be first to hear Beto’s big announcement,” Cano wrote.
She asked recipients to pass along the message to friends and family.
“There’s been an outpouring of speculation, excitement, and support from people across the country – everyone eagerly waiting for the news,” Cano wrote. “Many of us are crossing our fingers and hoping that Beto has decided to run.”
Cano talked about the grassroots campaign the Beto troops had built against Cruz.
“We received more votes than any Democrat in the history of Texas by uniting people across all walks of life so we could fight for a country that’s not defined by fear and paranoia but instead by the things we want to achieve together,” she wrote.
The email was probably an effort to continue communicating with people who had backed Beto, and double-check their list, as well as spread his political net wider.
Beto’s campaign’s fundraising effort against Cruz set the all-time record of $80 million-plus for a US Senate race – without taking Political Action Committee money.
Whether Beto can mine that kind of financial energy in a presidential primary against his fellow Democrats, who are in competition for many of the same donors, is another question.
But do not be surprised if Beto announces for president soon, and his team emails their massive contact list to try to raise an amount so large as to intimidate at least some other candidates into forgoing the race.
As for Biden, he’s almost certain to run. His wife is said to be enthusiastic about the race. For Democrats, a stumbling block might be Biden’s age of 76. The other person high in polls, Bernie Sanders, is 77.
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Beto Versus Cornyn?... In February, Texas’ other senator, Republican John Cornyn, speculated in a fund-raising message that Beto could still back off the presidential race and instead turn his on Cornyn’s 2020 re-election.
Cornyn says “all signs point to another well-funded, high stakes challenge from Beto in 2020. We need to be ready for anything. That’s why we’ve started a STOP BETO FUND - and that’s why I need you to chip in as soon as possible.”
However, some onlookers dismiss that as a simple fundraising tool, and don’t think Cornyn really expects Beto to oppose him.
Meanwhile, others talking about opposing Cornyn include U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, former state Sen. Wendy Davis, and near-miss 2018 congressional candidates MJ Hegar and Joseph Kopser – though both are said to be considering re-runs of their congressional races.
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McNeely is the dean of the Texas Capitol press corps. Contact McNeely at email@example.com or 512/458-2963.